Imagine yourself walking across a bridge on a sunny spring day. A river churns below you, littered with debris from the spring runoff. As you reach the midpoint of a bridge, you spot a little girl struggling in the rapids.
Spurred to action, you leap over the edge of the bridge into the water. You land just in time to reach the child. From there, you are able to pull her across the current to safety.
As the child’s eyes open and she sputters to life, the hair on the back of your neck prickles to attention. A frightened call echoes from the midst of the river. Another desperate soul is caught in the rapids, floating rapidly toward you. This time it’s a man who can’t swim.
Adrenaline pumping, you dive head-first into the water. You reach the man just as his head dips below the surface. Cutting through the current and debris, you deliver him safely to shore. Seconds later, another shout issues from the midst of the river.
The cycle continues, with calls for help arriving in Sisyphean succession. Every time you get to the bank, someone else floats toward you. You prove yourself a hero many times over. But you’re too busy saving lives to answer the question that tickles the edge of your exhausted consciousness:
What’s causing the people to end up in the river?
Our lives as entrepreneurs are filled with people and things floating down the river. Deadlines, demanding customers, team troubles, and a hundred other urgent priorities. They call relentlessly, creating an unending series of journeys small and big as we navigate the rapids to preserve the lifeblood of our businesses.
Going upstream to find the real source of these challenges isn’t easy. We are wired as human beings to pay attention to the crises that call most loudly. It’s natural to pay attention to the drowning children. Often, our energy is so consumed saving lives that we don’t have time or energy to think about where the children are coming from.
Realizing the need to go upstream is only the beginning. It can also require sacrifice. Finding the true source of our problems means leaving our spot near the bridge. That often means leaving an urgent crisis in order to get to the root of the problem.
Whenever the time comes for me to attend a Netcito meeting, a more urgent challenge beckons. It happens so consistently that I am tempted to call it the principle of drowning children. The children are always floating down the river. Overwhelm and urgency conspire against the upstream journey.
What lies upstream, however, are the keys to unlock a perpetual cycle of crisis and resolution. When we get to the source of our problems, we discover breakthrough insights that can change the course of what happens downstream. This is the essence of leadership. In entrepreneurial terms, it means discovering critical insights that can unlock the potential for our business.
For Netcito, going upstream means uncovering our blind spots, gaining access to game-changing resources, distinguishing our strengths, and a dozen other benefits. With up to 10 other entrepreneurs on our team, we make upstream changes that generate big downstream impact. I have yet to leave a Netcito meeting without absolute conviction that I made the right decision by going.
Next time an urgent priority unexpectedly grabs your attention, think about what’s necessary to save the most drowning people. It often means looking past the current emergency. The journey upstream Is hard, but it’s always worth the trip.